A weekly summary of what I’ve found interesting at the intersection of economics, finance and technology.
Apple’s App Store Rules Suddenly Came under Intense Scrutiny — Basecamp, not necessarily a big player in the tech world but high-profile among the developer community, had a run-in with Apple on their App Store rules. The whole story has too many twists and turns to recap here, but the conflict has unleashed a torrent of criticism on the App Store rules and their application. It has seemingly put Apple on the back foot, because they have made concessions to both Basecamp in particular and on the App Store rules in general, which is not their usual approach. Undoubtedly, the fact that the EU launched an antitrust investigation into the App Store practices at the same time is a contributing factor to their decision. The rules around in-app purchases, particularly the 30% cut of revenue that Apple demands, are starting to look more and more like an abuse of monopoly power, and it seems like imminent change is inevitable. Read (The Verge)
AdTech Firms Are Now Working with the Authorities To Help with the Covid-19 Crisis Management — Of course using this to mitigate the risks inherent in a pandemic is a noble use case, but the wider point is that once this data is available, it will be used one way or another. Today there probably is a valid reason to use it, tomorrow that reason may be significantly weaker, and that is why work to embed privacy in the technology we use is critical. Read (WSJ $)
The FBI Followed Internet Bread Crumbs To Identify Protesters Who Damaged Property — The sequence of clues they followed is unexpected, but the more important implication is, quoting Bruce Schneier: “This particular chain was put together manually, but expect machine learning techniques to be able to do this sort of thing automatically — and for organizations like the NSA to implement them on a broad scale.” Read (Schneier on Security)
The UK Switches to the Apple-Google Model for Its Contact-Tracing App — This was of course entirely predictable, and the issues with iPhones in the trial of the previous app were anticipated by everyone… Read (BBC News)
EU Members Agreed on Standards for National Apps To Work Together — After the initial disorganised rush to develop these apps, this makes sense. Read (TechCrunch)
Contact-Tracing Apps in the Gulf States Are Dystopian Surveillance Nightmares — Best feature by far: “by signing up for BeAware Bahrain, users were automatically enrolled into Are You At Home?, which is produced by state-controlled television channel Bahrain TV.” During the show, the presenter would randomly call people to check if they were at home, and maybe hand out a prize. Imagine the meeting… - Read (The Verge)
Germany’s Contact-Tracing App Provides a Better Example To Follow — The source code is on GitHub, and the renowned Chaos Computer Club approves. Nonetheless, adoption rates seem very low. Read (AP News)
After Outcry, Zoom Change Their Mind and Offer End-To-End Encryption to All — Initially it would only have been made available to paying users, which never made much sense. It will now be interesting to see if they publish the architecture and protocols, so independent researchers can review them. Read (Wired)
One of the key worries about AI is that the algorithms tend to be black boxes, that arrive at conclusions without clear rationale. It doesn’t seem a good idea to entrust these with potentially life-altering decisions, but an answer may lie in the growing field of “self-explainable AI.” Read (The Next Web)
There is a “Hey Siri, I’m getting pulled over” shortcut that starts recording video when activated, among others. Clever. Read (The Verge)
Leave it to the Russians to call a facial recognition system for every school in the country “Orwell.” Read (The Next Web)
Bot Mafias are wrecking the economy in the game ‘World of Warcraft Classic,’ by distorting supply and demand. Games like this are often interesting laboratories to observe behaviour that will spill over into the real world as well.Read (Wired)
That’s it for this week’s edition. As always, thanks for reading and please forward this to anyone who you think might be interested, it would be much appreciated.